I hate snakes. I really really hate snakes. I am also a devout animal-lover which means my distaste for this one particular creature is a legitimate phobia. A phobia, I’ve read, is an extreme and irrational fear of a particular object, class of objects, or situation. They can be the result of a traumatic experience or just a naturally acquired anxiety. My ophidiophobia, or fear of snakes, is a rather unfortunate phobia because, in my opinion, it’s not all that irrational. We should be scared of snakes because if they bite you it’s a problem. I spend a good amount of time running and biking on trails so I come across snakes all too often for my delicate disposition. I’ve been known to literally push friends into the path of a snake in order to give myself a head start in the opposite direction. I’m not proud of this.
I wish I had a different phobia, something more obscure and benign like lutraphobia, a fear of otters, or aulophobia, a fear of flutes. I’m pretty sure I could go my whole life avoiding flutes and otters (but who would want to?!).
When I took up mountain biking I realized I would have to overcome a lot of natural fears like the fear of falling, of getting lost, and of falling some more. I realize now I also have to conquer my bonafide phobia of snakes.
First thing was to analyze the birth place of my fear. It’s possible my phobia was born of a traumatic experience. Let me take you back to my early childhood, back when kids were allowed to roam free as soon as they could put on their own shoes.
As a young girl, I was fortunate to live on the idyllic island of Key West, Florida with my mom and brother. I spent my days exploring the tropical areas around our condo with my good friend Amy. One day, while we were poking around on the shoreline of a nearby cove we began collecting dead horseshoe crabs. When we turned to leave, our little hands clutching as many crabs as possible, we encountered a snake strewn across the path. We squealed, dropped our bounty, and headed deep into a wooded area where we immediately became lost. It took a few local police officers to rescue us from this detour. So is this why I’m scared of snakes? A childhood tale of being lost and then found? I’m gonna go with it.
*Please note that we were not scared of the creepy prehistoric looking horseshoe crabs but of a lone snake across the path.
As a runner, encountering snakes isn’t too common in that they hear us coming from a ways away and have time to slither to safety. Blazing down the mountain on a bike, however, is a different story. The snake has no time to react and often just freezes so by the time I’m upon it, I’m forced to make a game-time decision. I don’t have the luxury of indulging the epileptic seizure taking place internally. If I’m riding too fast to safely stop, my only choice is to let out a quick shrill and hop over it and pray it’s not a grumpy rattler.
Usually, mountain bikers are looking far enough down the trail to have time to stop and shoo the snake into the bushes. Once the coast is clear, my riding crew calmly rides on by even with the rattler sounding off loudly in the bushes. In my concealed panic I’m sure the snake is gunning for me, but I got a bad-ass mountain biking chick rep to protect so I cannot cry and ride with my knees tucked up under my chin.
I’ve even heard some extreme mountain biking stories where a biker didn’t have time to hop a snake he met on a trail so ran it over. Here’s the part that makes me light-headed – the snake got caught in his back wheel and the rotation of the wheel brought the snake up to the top of the wheel and flung it on to the back of the cyclist. Oh sweet baby Jesus. That would be the end of me. I have to believe this is all lore repeated to sissies like myself in order to have a little fun at our expense.
So you see, I like to think that all this mountain biking has forced me to confront my one phobia. Clearly, I’m not cured of it yet. Baby steps. But I haven’t pushed anyone into a snake in a long time and I don’t go into shock as I used to. I think this is progress.